Going Above and Beyond

It's one thing to go out of your way to help a customer and another to do it the Audi Mechanicsburg way.

Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania dealership -- near Harrisburg, the state capital -- sent a sales technician and a master mechanic on a two hour-plus, 113-mile drive, to replace the tires and wheels that were stolen off a customer's A8 sedan.

The owner had parked his car at a hotel near the Philadelphia International Airport and left on a Caribbean holiday. He returned to find his car propped up on landscaping rocks.

The car owner "called here in a panic," says Steven Baun, general manager of Audi Mechanicsburg and Sun Motor Cars Porsche, housed in the same building. "He had the sport package with wheels, and the car was almost sitting on the ground."

The owner didn't want his car towed by an emergency service for fear it would be damaged. It was 4 p.m. on a Friday, and the dealership closed at 4:30, but Baun didn't flinch. A limousine was dispatched to pick up the Audi owner and his wife and drive them home.

Two employees volunteered to make the drive. They emptied a parts vehicle, pulled the wheels off a new A8 and headed out on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. They returned the car to the owner's house in Harrisburg at 2:30 the next morning.

It was costly and time consuming. The owner's insurance covered the wheels and tires, but he wasn't charged for the service.

That wasn't the first time Audi Mechanicsburg went above and beyond what's expected of a dealership. Baun says the idea is baked into his business model.

He doesn't dare add up the man hours expended, but Baun says superior service is what sets his store apart from its competition. And in a secondary market such as Mechanicsburg, he says positive word-of-mouth is essential.

"Treat the customer as you would yourself -- and sometimes it does cost you money," Baun says. "We don't get any compensation."

He says the extras the dealership provides are not part of the Audi Emergency Roadside Services program run by Allstate Roadside Assistance and free to new-car buyers for four years.

Audi of America executives like what Baun is doing. They asked him to speak in October to a group of dealership employees at Lincoln Center in New York. The event was part of a daylong seminar launching the brand's "Kundenbegeisterung" customer service program. Audi translates the long German word very loosely as "creating Audi fans."

Seminars were held this fall in 14 U.S. cities, and about 15,000 dealership employees were invited to learn how to engage customers better, personalize sales and service and learn from other industries.

"Audi Mechanicsburg is helping to lead the way," says Jeffrey Tolerico, director of Audi of America's Eastern region. "It exemplifies superlative customer service."

Key to growth

The Audi store shares an outlet with Sun Motor Cars Porsche.

The Audi franchise was acquired in November 2007 and moved to a new dual outlet with Porsche in 2009. The dealership is on track to sell about 260 new Audis this year, up from 190 in 2011, Baun says.

The Audi store only sold 62 new vehicles the year it was acquired by Sun Motor Cars.

"We want to get to 500 units in the next two to three years," Baun says, and he's convinced that customer service is a key to reaching that goal.

Baun says the situation is a bit different at the Porsche store. The same level of care is afforded the customer, but it's not the same kind of wow factor because the customers more or less expect it.

"That client has different expectations," Baun says.

In one situation, an Audi customer locked her keys in the car. She was 40 miles from home and had to pick up her grandchildren, Baun says. Rather than make her wait the usual two or three hours for Audi to send a tow truck, the dealership cut a key and had someone drive 90 minutes to help her.

The dealership has brought gasoline to stranded customers and changed flat tires, all for free.

"If someone owns our products, and they are in trouble and even if we are an hour way, we grab our gear and go -- for no compensation," Baun says. "If you help the customer out, maybe they will buy another Audi. We believe what goes around comes around."

Sweet charity

The same philosophy applies to community service and charity work. In November, about a dozen employees grew beards as participants in a fundraiser for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Customers sponsored the employees, and donations totaled about $3,000.

"We do this stuff all the time," Baun says. "Our job is to sell cars -- and to get the clients engaged with our brand. It is grass-roots marketing, and it is the right thing to do. People love it."

The Humane Society of Harrisburg Area periodically holds pet-adoption clinics at the dealership. And this year, Baun organized a Mille for MS, a race similar to the Mille Miglia road rally in Italy.

He hoped to get 20 or 30 cars to participate and raise $10,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Instead, 67 vehicles participated -- including some S4 and S5 high-performance models -- and the group raised $27,000.

"We were the title sponsor, and that was huge," Baun says. "We sold a couple Audis because of it."

Audi of America has given the store its top honor, the Magna Society Award, for the past three years -- the only Audi dealership to accomplish that feat. Audi says the annual award not only rewards sales performance and high customer satisfaction scores but recognizes stores that represent "the progressive Audi culture."

Baun says the key to providing extra services is hiring the right people. Potential hires take a personality test to determine whether they show empathy toward others, he says.

"You cannot always train a lot of that stuff," Baun says. "It is getting harder and harder to find those traits in generation X and Y."

He says he often asks job applicants what they would do if they passed a car broken down on the road with a female driver and two child car seats in the rear.

"I ask if they would pull over, continue driving or dial 911," Baun says.

"If they pick B or C, I know if we hire that person, we will struggle with them understanding the culture of the store."